There are endless parenting blogs and books chock-full of advice and tips on how to introduce a young child to their newborn sibling. But what about how to introduce the real baby at home- your pet, to the arrival of an infant?
When I was pregnant with my twins, I gave new meaning to the term "morning sickness." I was in bed most of my pregnancy due to the intense nausea and vomiting. However, the positive twists to that enduring time were plenty. I watched every episode of "I Love Lucy," "I Dream of Genie," and "Gilligan's Island." My dad (who sadly has since passed away) would visit several times a day to lovingly feed me the few foods I could handle. I cherish those memories with him. I also had the love and loyalty of our dog Baci. He would lie on my growing belly all day and night, never leaving my side... not even for a drink of water or food. When my dad would visit throughout the day, he would sit in the kitchen with Baci, reading the newspaper while the dog ate and drank. As soon as Baci finished, he would run up the stairs and resume his claimed "head on my stomach" position. We were seriously concerned about how he was going to react to the "earthquake" that was about to hit his calm, quiet utopia. How was Baci going to handle the arrival of not one, but two babies? How was our little four-legged guy going to react to the shifted attention, the noise, the sleepless nights? We have all heard stories of pets having difficulty with newborns and it was a big concern of ours.
However, as Winston Churchill once said, "When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened."
On that positive note, the day we brought home our two little baby girls, each under 5 pounds, was memorable, and not only for the obvious reasons. Baci's reaction to them was a complete surprise. When we arrived, we placed the babies on the floor still in their car seats, removed all 100 layers of blankets (first-time parents in the dead of a New York winter), and sat next to them waiting for Baci to take notice. He stared from across the room for what seemed like an eternity, slowly walked up to them, sniffed every inch of each of them, and then gave them the goopiest lick on each of their faces from chin to forehead... From that moment on, he never left their side, until the day he passed away. He slept under and inside their cribs, ate with them, loved bath time and celebrated each and every milestone and hurdle. He was their best friend. My daughters' first words were not "mama" or "papa," but "ba-ba" (their interpretation of Baci).
I know that my experience was a good one and that dogs, like humans, all have different personalities. So, here are a few pre-natal tips for preparing Fido and Fluffy for the transition of introducing a baby into your household.
Before Baby's Arrival
- Find a new Top Dog. If you have been your pet's primary caregiver, gradually introduce another family member into the role of Top Dog, so there will be less trauma when you need to focus almost all your time and attention on the new baby. Another person can provide the extra love and adoration you used to lavish on your pet. Don't worry! You can return to that role later with the help of your inquisitive, growing baby.
- Healthcare is a family affair. You want to ensure your pet is healthy before you bring a baby home. Months in advance, book a check-up and let the vet know about your upcoming arrival. A professional that already knows your pet can offer solid advice about introducing your furry baby to your new baby. You'll want to ensure any health or behavioral issues are dealt with sooner rather than later, that all vaccinations are up-to-date and that your pet is spayed and neutered.
- Invite friends with babies to visit your home. Give your pet opportunities to get used to being around newborns and small children.
- Train your pet to remain calm on the floor beside you. You will soon be cradling a newborn. So training your pet to "stay" until invited onto your lap is important. Make sure to reward him/her for their good behavior.
- Accustom your pet to baby noises. Play recordings of babies crying, shaking rattles and other sounds associated with the new furniture and toys that babies bring to a household. Reward your pet for staying calm amidst the noise.
- Use double-stick tape. To keep your pet away from furniture such as the changing table, crib or the baby's rocker, use double-stick tape. They don't like the feel of it on their paws and will learn to avoid it.
- Consider sleeping arrangements and furniture. Allowing pets on furniture puts them at eye level with a baby, whom the pet may perceive as a threat or competition. Pets may also become possessive of some furniture or beds. Your best bet is to teach pets to stay off all beds and furniture before the baby arrives. I know this can be considered a difficult task. However, be consistent and make sure to reward your pet.
- Move litter boxes away from the baby's area. Do this several months in advance. Move the box no more than one foot per day, closer and closer to its final destination. This is important! So don't wait until the final days -- unless you want to be cleaning up "other baby's" mess!
- Get a baby doll. It's a great way to start introducing your new family member. If you already have a name picked out for your new arrival, be sure to use it - a lot! Let your pet see you carrying, cuddling and cooing, and allow your pet to sniff the doll. This is a great opportunity to teach your pet what is appropriate with the new baby, such as: "You can look, but not bite!" If you have a dog, take the doll for a walk in the new stroller on your next outing. Who cares if the neighbors want to have you committed? What we won't do for our pets...
- Sprinkle baby products on your skin. Start using the baby lotions and powders on yourself prior to the baby's arrival so your pet becomes familiar with the new smells. Also bring home clothing or a blanket with your newborns scent on it before your baby is discharged from the hospital.
- Be calm. Your pet is going to be excited at your homecoming, regardless of the new baby. So plan ahead. When you arrive home, have someone take the baby into a separate room while you greet your pet. Be warm, calm and make sure to present your pet with a few well-earned treats!
- Give attention. Siblings and other friends and family can help with this important time of adjustment by consciously spending extra time with your pet. With all the excitement surrounding the new arrival, you may have to remind people to reach out to them.
- Get a new bed for your pet. There is no doubt about it. Bringing a new baby home is stressful. Combining that anxiety with a jealous pet can put one "over the edge." Drastically decreasing attention and frequently scolding, ignoring, or isolating your pet after the baby comes home will likely make your pet feel stressed and cause him or her to act out. Be hyper-vigilant about your pet's feelings during this transition. This might be the time to introduce a new perch or bed that is strictly for your pet's use. Put some toys and treats in the new bed to help your pet acclimate faster.
- Don't leave the baby alone with your pet. Be alert for signs of aggression or jealousy when your baby comes home. No matter how much you trust your pet, NEVER leave ANY baby or child unattended with ANY pet!
And a few final words of wisdom from a pet-loving mom of twins: "Anyone with a 'pet' is fully aware that word is a misnomer. Pets are family members, and if you aren't sure, just ask them! Yes, they may woof or purr in reply, but they will let you know in no uncertain terms that they are indeed family members -- and you'd best not forget it!" Here's a great video showing just that.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.